Friday, 18 June 2021

Lesser Celandine

Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus Ficaria) 

Considered a weed - but still a beautiful plant nonetheless - Lesser Celandine is a small, low-growing, perennial herb from the buttercup family Ranunculaceae. Its cheerful star-shaped flowers appear in early spring covering the woodland floor.

A British native, it can be found in woods, hedgerows, on the banks of streams, and in gardens; and is an early and excellent source of pollen and nectar for emerging bumblebees.

Also known as brighteye, spring messenger, figwort, smallwort, cheesecups, and butter and cheese, it’s most popular folk name is probably pilewort due to its traditional use in Medieval Britain in the treatment of piles.

I call it The Shopkeeper because it closes its petals at 5pm, and re-opens at 9am, even in fine weather; and it was once held that it could be used to predict the weather as they close their petals before raindrops.

If picked on the morning of St Peter’s Day (29th June) it is said that you are given protection from imprisonment - but given that it disappears around late April take from that what you will! 🙈😆 It is also associated with psychic ability, the Sun, Artemis, and Scorpio.

I have seen its magickal correspondences referred to as war, destruction, action, rage, and power, but I personally associate it with cheeriness, spring, routine, boundaries, timekeeping, and getting a job done.

Lesser celandine is mentioned in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. When Aslan returns and the woodland turns from winter to spring, the ground is covered with yellow celandine flowers.

Bird’s-foot Trefoil

Bird’s-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

This cheery little plant is one we have in abundance on the cemetery. It flowers in grassy areas between May and September. Native to Eurasia and North Africa, and found throughout mainland Europe, Asia, Africa, the US, and the tropics; it’s not difficult to see that it’s a member of the pea family.

The bird’s foot part of its name refers to the appearance of the seed pods. Five leaves are present, but three are held above the others, hence the “trefoil” part of the name.

It has an abundance of wonderful folk names: deervetch, lady’s slipper, lady’s shoes, granny’s toenails, butter and eggs, eggs and bacon, hen and chickens, cats claws, crow feet, crow toes, devil’s fingers, devil’s claws, king’s fingers, to name but a few.

In folklore the birds-foot trefoil was sometimes associated with evil. Its claw-like seed pods were compared to the Devil’s claws.

The theme of warning and protection comes up a lot with this plant. It has been suggested that bird’s-foot trefoil were woven into wreaths on Midsummer’s night, its three-lobed leaves reminiscent of the Holy Trinity and therefore offering protection; and U.K. schoolchildren used to pick these flowers to use as protective charms against their teachers’ anger.

“Here I dance in a dress like flames,
And laugh to think of my comical names.
Hoppetty hop, with nimble legs!
Some folks call me Bacon and Eggs!
While other people, it’s really true,
Tell me I’m Cuckoo’s Stockings too!
Over the hill I skip and prance;
I’m Lady’s Slipper, and so I dance,
Not like a lady, grand and proud,
But to the grasshoppers chirping loud.
My pods are shaped like dicky’s toes:
That is what Bird’s-Foot Trefoil shows;
This is the name which grown-ups use, but children may call me what they choose.”

~ Mary Cicely Barker, “The Song of the Bird’s-Foot Trefoil Fairy”

The Witches of Belvoir

This month are hosting a challenge based on #regionalwitchcraft and this week is the prompt “Folklore”. Folktales are a subset of folklore, and are popular in my county. This story is based on true events. 

🧙🏼‍♀️🧙🏼‍♀️🧙🏼‍♀️ The Witches of Belvoir 🧙🏼‍♀️🧙🏼‍♀️🧙🏼‍♀️

“Surely... God will choke me on this bread if I am guilty!”

It was 1613, and in Langham, Rutland, lived Joan Flowers. She had two daughters, Philippa and Margaret, who worked for the Earl of Rutland who was seated at Belvoir Castle. 

Philippa helped in the nursery and Margaret was a poultry keeper and laundress until she was caught stealing eggs, and was dismissed from service. The Countess of Rutland refused to give her a character reference which meant she would be unable to find further employment with other local dignitaries.

Joan Flowers was absolutely enraged. Despite being poor she had built up good standing within her community, and she was angry that her daughter would be treated this way. 

She gathered her small coven. Along with Ellen Green of Stathern, Joan Willimott of Goadby, and Anne Baker of Bottesford, and her daughters; the six women climbed to the top of Blackberry Hill, a sinister spot rumoured to be a place of malevolent magick. Here they made a pact with the Devil that revenge would be taken on the Earl and Countess of Rutland, and their three children.

Philippa provided a glove belonging to Lord Ross, Henry Manners, their young son. Joan dipped it in boiling water and rubbed it along the back of her familiar, a black cat called Rutterkin, before pricking it with pins. A week later the child became ill and died. Joan took feathers from the quilt of the Earl and Countess, and boiled the feathers, mixing them with blood, declaring “may they have no more children.” 

The same was done with Francis Manners. He fell sick, but recovered. The witches were angry, and resorted to burying his glove in a dung heap, whereby Francis would fade as the glove decayed. Katherine Manners also started looking ill...

The witches were not secretive about what they were doing, and the news of the curse soon made it back to Belvoir Castle. In 1618, all six women were arrested and imprisoned at Lincoln Gaol. After questioning they were taken to the Lincoln Assizes. Joan Flowers maintained she was innocent, despite the evidence that was brought against her, and despite the boasting she had done.

In 1619, Joan stood before a packed court, having asked for bread to be supplied, and exclaimed in front of an audience sat on tenterhooks: 

“Surely... God will choke me on this bread if I am guilty!” 

She took a bite of the bread... and choked to death.

Joan Flowers’ daughters were found guilty and hanged at Lincoln Castle. It is not sure what happened to the others as it was not recorded, but their deaths did not save Francis Manners who died shortly after in 1620. 

A memorial to the Earl and his family can be found at Bottesford Church:

“He had two sonnes, both which dyed in their infancy by wicked practice and sorcerye”

Footnote: There is evidence to suggest that the Flower family were set up. The family were disliked by the staff at Belvoir Castle, and despite being herbal healers were seen in their local community as obnoxious and arrogant. Many witch trials involved local squabbles. There is evidence to suggest that the boys were actually put to death by the Duke of Buckingham, who wanted to marry the Earl of Rutland’s daughter so that he could inherit the Earl’s fortune. It is said that local people were scared of the Flowers family, but we must consider that these were poor, uneducated women who had to defend themselves in court, with the average trial lasting no more than 20 minutes. Joan Flowers is buried at the crossroads in Ancaster. 

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Graveyard Dirt

Living on a cemetery it makes sense to talk about Graveyard Dirt.

Amongst other things, it is used for:

💀 Samhain rituals
💀 Protection spells
💀 Communicating with spirits
💀 Altar item during mourning
💀 Banishing
💀 Habit-breaking spells
💀 Curses
💀 Ancestor Connection and veneration
💀 Summoning spirits

Although it is used across many traditions, it is fair to say that using Graveyard Dirt can be a contentious issue, and some people find it disrespectful to take land from those who are trying to rest, simply to increase power, or for other spell casting motives. However, it does not need to be taken from specific graves.

The dirt I have gathered is the dirt removed from grave digging - not all of it goes back, and is left in a pile; but it still holds the energy of this land, which for hundreds of years has been used for funerary purposes. Alternatively, you can gather dirt from somewhere else on the cemetery, or from a grave that is occupied by someone you know.

Firstly, this feels much more acceptable than taking dirt from the grave of someone you don’t know (depending on your viewpoint), and secondly, the character of the person who is buried there may be crucial in your workings, or may have wanted to have been a part of your workings in some way. I suspect my Nan - had she been buried - might have taken interest in some of my spells!

Of course, it is thoughtful and fair to leave a gift for the dead in exchange for what you have taken; flowers, stones, a libation, small coins, or some other small offering, are all appropriate.

Do you use Graveyard Dirt in your practice? What do you think about it?

The Land and People

This month are hosting a challenge based on #regionalwitchcraft and they get started this week with the prompt “Land and People”, two things that are deeply interwoven here.

I’m a “Raddleman” which means I’m an inhabitant of the smallest county in England - Rutland - which is nestled between Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.

Our agricultural landscape boasts hills and valleys, sacred wells, a Sheela na gig, a labyrinth, a Norman castle, a Bede house, and lots of churches built on old, sacred ground. We are a beautiful county, steeped in the rich history, folklore and traditions of the surrounding area, much of which has made its way into our magick.

Aside from smiths and farriers, we are the only people that may display a horseshoe pointing downwards to bring us luck, for fear that the Devil will make its home in the hollow when displayed the other way round. Apparently we need to keep an eye on the Devil as he’s always hard at work putting temptation in the way of the people! We nail horseshoes with nine nails over the stable door, and keep one in the fire at all times. A horse-shoe nailed on a door renders the evil power of a witch that may enter of non-effect, and many local houses display them.

Our local produce, broad beans, also feature a lot in our folklore, especially remedies - “take the pod of a broad bean, rub it on a wart, and then bury it or throw it over the shoulder without looking back”, and you can spot someone from Leicestershire as the beans will (apparently!) rattle in their belly.

If you drop a knife, a male visitor will come to the house. If you drop a spoon, a female visitor will come. If one person begins to pour out the tea, and another takes charge of the tea-pot to finish, there will be a birth in the family within twelve months.

We have loads of legends, many of them ghost stories. The spectral lady of Braunston, Swift Nick, Nicodemus, the Black Annis, the Witch of Edmondthorpe Hall, a magic hedge that bows when you walk past it, and a bogeyman. All yet to be shared with you.


This month are hosting a challenge based on #regionalwitchcraft and this week is the prompt “Native Plants”. 

Primrose (Primula vulgaris)

The name primrose comes from the Latin “prima rosa” meaning “first rose”, indicating that spring is generally the time for these beautiful plants to flower, although they sometimes open as early as December in the mildest areas of the U.K.

They’re found across the whole of Britain and Ireland, and are considered a favourite by many, including the many little creatures that depend on them for food, nectar and pollination. They are found in woodlands and by hedgerows and thrive in damp shade. 

There are lots of primrose recipes, but it’s illegal to pick or remove them from the wild as they’re currently protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Folklore surrounding primroses is mainly associated with faeries, and with life cut short.

Hanging primrose flowers outside your house is an invitation to faeries to come in, and touching a rock with a posy of primroses is a key; supposedly opening the doorway to the faerie realms. To receive a blessing from the faeries, primroses should be placed upon the doorstep, and at Beltane primroses and yellow gorse were often lain across the threshold to celebrate the spring and the encroaching summer. That said, as much energy has been spent trying to protect against faeries over the years as attracting them. In the National Folklore Collection in University College, Dublin, there can be found a piece of verse relating to Beltane and faeries:

“Guard the house with a string of primroses
on the first three days of May.
The fairies are said not to be able
to pass over or under this string.”

In Flora Britannica, Richard Mabel notes that in Victorian times it was common to plant primroses on the graves of children. There are definitely primroses dotted about on this cemetery, but I’m not sure if they correspond.

There are other customs related to death and primroses, meaning they provoke a similar feeling to blossom for me: they are representative of the ephemeral nature of life. 💚

Regional Witchcraft #witchwithme
June 7-13: Native Plants